Synchronous Teaching and Learning
As schools and organizations turned to online learning, synchronous video platforms, like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, skyrocketed in popularity. The benefits of moving from synchronous, in-person classes to synchronous, virtual classes felt substantial. The lesson plans and activities felt like they would translate easily and authentically, there was more control over the space and ways to see the learners’ attention as present or lagging. Over time it became clear that, while maintaining a synchronous lens, moving from in-person to digital was not a simple process.
“Adapting the learning aids can be challenging at the beginning, but the creativity and dedication of the peer-educators are what got us through and resulted in an amazing end product. The materials needed to be adapted to the platform itself, which can be hard, yet is manageable by closely following the reactions of the participants in every single situation and thus perpetually adapting them to be as stimulating as possible.” – HERA Educator
There are notable pros and cons to synchronous learning environments.
- Control – facilitator can see participants and can determine their ability to interact with each other.
- Dialogue – real time interaction in large and small groups.
- Screen sharing – showing participants slide shows, video clips, and other elements displayed on your computer screen.
The benefits that come with digital, synchronous CSE are notable! Indeed, it should not be seen as a deficit model when compared with in-person CSE. Leaning into, for example, being able to reach a huge audience at one time, and maintaining intimacy through breakout groups, should not be underestimated. Participants, whether they are parents or youth, may have an easier time attending while working around obligations at home and at work. Automatic closed captioning is only one of the many ways that synchronous sessions can be more accessible to a wider audience than in-person learning.
- Technological complexity – managing the details in a video conference call takes attention and involves a learning curve.
- False sense of connectedness – because it is possible to see each other’s faces, but it does not offer true eye contact or the possibility of seeing full body language.
- Security – zoom bombing is one example, another would be participants taking screenshots or photos of the screen, and so on.
- SEDRA contribution: our experiencee has consisted in multiple mixed formats, that means the educator is online while the group is face to face. In this cases the difficulties multiply: faces are not seen, contributions and discussions are not heard well, people from the group are ‘anonymous’, gestures got unnoticed, etc. Therefore, it is essential to have an ally on the other side, predictably the regular educator. Meeting with her/him/them beforehand is vital in order to work on the content, the structure and giving them clearly instructions of what is needed. The success or the failure depends on this.
The biggest challenge that comes with digital CSE is the safety of the participants and the educators, which is why we have devoted an entire chapter to this issue. Before moving forward with any synchronous CSE, be sure to consult with this chapter to ensure the program is not bringing more harm than good.
Making the process of teaching CSE feel more organic and natural to the virtual space itself is essential. Consider the kinds of online tools that interface with synchronous structures and make them central to the curricular structure. Ways to modify existing programming in ways that feel natural are instrumental, and having a good grasp on what feels natural is a great place to start.
Here are a few examples of digital elements to use strategically:
- Whiteboard feature
- Polling feature
- Breakout rooms (can be used for small group conversations and also for when a participant needs a one-on-one chat with a facilitator)
- Private and group chat/messaging systems
- Digital slides that are shared
- Social media groups that are formed after the learning experience to continue connection
- Anonymous question platform (can be something that is for general use like google forms or a polling software or ones that are designed for anonymous questions)
Many of these elements are available within synchronous video platforms and also via outside platforms. Consider the whiteboard feature. While the one available within Zoom is sufficient, there are benefits to using Google’s JamBoard because of its integration with Google Image Search or even much more robust whiteboards like Mural or Miro. The more robust the program, however, the more time will need to be spent training participants on how to use it. The costs and benefits of this trade off will depend on many factors, including how much time total the program uses (the more time, the more likely it is that additional technical training will pay off on a more robust program) and the average and range of quality of the Wi-Fi and computers the participants will be using (the lower the quality, the less useful the more robust whiteboard systems).
Finally, however optimized your digital CSE is, there is always room to grow. “At the beginning of our digitization process, we encountered some setbacks due to the general scepticism towards digitalization. We dealt with this by consulting an external expert regarding the adaptation of our manual and our teaching style. Our first attempt looked nothing like what we have now. We started by adapting our workshops into a debate-centered format in order to make up for the visual aids we had not yet developed online. This experience helped us find our weak and strong suits in the virtual world and further adapt our curriculum.“ – HERA Educator
“At the beginning of our digitization process, we encountered some setbacks due to the general scepticism towards digitalization. We dealt with this by consulting an external expert regarding the adaptation of our manual and our teaching style. Our first attempt looked nothing like what we have now. We started by adapting our workshops into a debate-centered format in order to make up for the visual aids we had not yet developed online. This experience helped us find our weak and strong suits in the virtual world and further adapt our curriculum.“ – HERA Educator